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Redskins TE & NFLPA Extern Ray Hamilton Chronicles Final Week at Panini America

March 5, 2016

from-desk[2]

Editor’s Note: As part of the NFLPA Externship program, Washington Redskins tight end Ray Hamilton is spending three weeks at Panini America working in the Product Development, Acquisitions and Marketing departments. Each week during his externship, Hamilton will document his time inside Panini America HQ. This is his third and final dispatch.

I could honestly write a lengthy dissertation on how much of an impact this NFLPA Externship has made on me. I couldn’t have picked a better company to work with. I truly felt like part of the team throughout my three weeks here and it’s easy to see why Panini America is so successful. They have a unique combination of people, products and passion that really is difficult to beat. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here.

I’ve made many new friends – both personally and professionally – and I look forward to our paths crossing again in the future.

When I first started, I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t sure if I would be taking orders for three straight weeks or if I would be incorporated in a meaningful way into the different parts of the business. Fast forward three weeks and I can tell you it was one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my career so far.

Day 14
Monday, February 29
Monday was a travel day from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis back to Panini America HQ in Dallas. Once Nick Matijevich, Ben Ecklar and I got back, we came to the office to finish up some things that needed to get squared away. 

Day 15
Tuesday, March 1
To start my third and final week in marketing, I moved my laptop for the final time to my new space — in the office Tracy Hackler and Scott Prusha share. I will spend a good portion of my week helping them out with whatever they need.

I worked on a checklist for Prusha that will be featured in an upcoming promotional set. Although we can’t say just what it will be in yet, we threw some names back and forth to see what would be best in terms of players in the set.

We then went to lunch as a marketing group. Panini America Vice President of Marketing Jason Howarth puts together a lunch for the crew as the heavy load of travel for the group slows down for the time being. It was a great lunch to just sit and talk about some of the experiences over the past couple of trips. The marketing crew is a very tight-knit bunch that is extremely effective in its area of responsibility. 

In the afternoon I got the chance to do a few media interviews with Stephen Laroche of Beckett Media over the phone and with Kelsey Schroyer of GTS Distribution via email for upcoming stories. Hopefully you guys will get the chance to check these out as they will help the collectors get to know more about me and my experiences throughout the externship.

Day 16
Wednesday, March 2
I had the chance to revisit the Panini Acquisitions Vault with Joe White and Tracy Hackler. Throughout my three weeks here, the Acquisitions area was one of my favorite places to visit. It’s something like the most amazing memorabilia museum you’ve ever seen. And it’s impressive to see how organized everything is. On this particular day, I made the short drive over with Hackler and White, both of whom had different business to attend to.

White was on hand to personally inspect the recent arrival of several key autograph cards from the likes of Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Greg Olsen, Ben Roethlisberger, Herman Edwards and more. Most of what White was looking at included some pretty impressive on-card autographs for upcoming products such as 2015 National Treasures Football and 2015 Flawless Football. Those are apparently two of the biggest programs of the year for Panini America on the NFL side – and I can tell you from firsthand experience that the cards look incredible. As for Hackler, he was snapping photographs of those products – and more on the NBA side – that will eventually turn into preview blog posts on The Knight’s Lance.

Hackler, White and I then went to lunch and returned to Panini America HQ, where I attended an afternoon conference call with Howarth for a joint marketing opportunity that I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot about in the near future. I can’t disclose what it’s about — but it’s a great mainstream promotion to promote trading cards. Stay tuned. It was fascinating to be able to sit in on that meeting and learn a different side of the business that seldom – if ever – gets seen by someone from the outside.

Before I left for the day, I also got the chance to crack a few boxes of football cards: 2015 Playbook Football and 2015 Black Gold Football. Cracking Panini America packs never gets old.

Hamilton Boxes

Day 17
Thursday, March 3
Today was interesting on a number of fronts. I got to learn more about The Famous San Diego Chicken than I ever thought possible thanks to a funny video that the Panini America marketing team put together to promote his trading cards in the company’s new 2016 Donruss Baseball product. The Chicken was hilarious in the video but the fascinating part to me was how the video illustrated everything that goes into making just one memorabilia card. It was also kind of a full-circle moment for me. On the second day of my NFLPA Externship with Panini America, I went with Hackler to the company’s production facility to film the final stages of this video. To see it come to fruition knowing how much work went into it behind the scenes was awesome.

After the Chicken discussion subsided, I conducted my second Twitter Q&A. It was another enjoyable round of questions from an intense, passionate audience. Panini America’s collectors, fans and social media followers are an awesome bunch and I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve had during these three weeks to interact with them.

Before I get to my Thursday afternoon, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Howarth and Hackler introduced me to the Texas institution known as “Whataburger” for a quick lunch. For years I’ve heard debates between West Coast folks who swear by In-N-Out Burger and people from the South who favor Whataburger. I’ve had both, and I can tell you that Whataburger is the choice. 

In the afternoon, we had a follow-up meeting to discuss the recently completed 2016 NFL Scouting Combine. Everyone who attended the event also attended this meeting to share feedback and anecdotes that will help shape next year’s event, during which Panini America is planning to have a much bigger presence with the NFL/NFLPA exclusive.

In addition to hearing from everyone on what worked and what didn’t work during the event, I was also able to offer some of my own feedback from a player’s perspective. I was more than a fly on the wall in this meeting, I was able to be an active participant. That’s been true of this entire three-week process with Panini America. 

The folks here have done an amazing job of including me in every aspect of the business. It’s been an incredible learning experience for me. 

Day 18
Friday, March 4
This morning I walked into my workplace for the week — the office that Prusha shares with Hackler — to Green Day’s “I Hope You Had the Time of Your Life.” It’s the last day of my NFLPA Externship with Panini America, and Prusha and Hackler had some appropriate music blaring to start my last day. Perhaps more than anything else I’ve learned about Panini America over the last three weeks, there are two things that stand out: The people here work incredibly hard and they have a lot of fun doing it. It’s been awesome to be included in that culture.

Just when I thought my last day at Panini America would be little more than making the rounds to say my “Good Byes” and “Thank Yous” to everyone here who has made my time so rewarding and educational, Howarth called me into a meeting revolving around the NFL Draft. It was another front-row seat to a different side of the business that rarely gets seen or mentioned but always seems to have a big impact on the final product.

From there, it was back to the Prusha/Hackler office for a few more minutes of farewells and selfies (and even a few autographs) before departing to the airport for my flight home back to Iowa before getting into the meat of my off-season preparations.

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